Food safety expert: “not time to panic” about food in wake of coronavirus outbreak

Food safety experts said the coronavirus is not known to live on the food we eat but the outbreak has led to concerns about delays for inspections for foreign food manufacturers.

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The Food and Drug Administration has temporarily postponed inspections for most imported food to the U.S. in part because of travel and access restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

“When they’re doing those inspections, they’re looking for food safety issues, unclean water, poor hygiene practices and trying to flag them and educate those facilities so that they could correct the issue,” Sarah Sorscher, Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs for The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said. "Not doing those inspections means we'll have one less safeguard that we usually have available to protect against foodborne risks."

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Sorscher said while there are concerns about how long the delays can last, there are still other protections for the food we eat right now.

"Imported foods are still being screened at the border and there are still precautions being taken by businesses and third parties so it's not time to panic on food, but it is important for FDA to be able to resume the normal course of inspections,” Sorscher said.

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The FDA said it’s using other tools while the foreign inspections are postponed including reviewing manufacturers’ compliance histories and sharing information with other countries.

The coronavirus spreads easily from person to person.

"A lot of restaurants are taking additional precautions like wiping down surfaces more often, hand washing and encouraging sick workers to stay home,” Sorscher said.